Has anyone found out yet if it’s possible to “have it all”? Finding work that fulfills us while satisfying the needs of our family isn’t easy. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, about two-thirds of agents got into real estate because of the flexible schedule. Not all of us are made to stick to a 9-5 way of thinking- some of us are determined to do more so we can put more into our families and the world around us. Read on to find out how Sarah McElvaney went from being a stay-at-home mom to real estate agent. She shares her story of taking a leap of faith into a new career path while crafting work-life harmony that shows it is possible to build a successful real estate career while putting family first.
Before I became a REALTOR®, I stayed home with my kids for four years, doing side work as a photographer to stay busy and help provide some income for our family. Prior to having kids, I worked in banking. I started as a teller at Bank of the West and then moved to Wells Fargo Financial. I worked there during the crash, taking applications from people who wanted to make home improvements and consolidate their debt. I took applications from people convinced that borrowing more than their home’s value was a good thing.
When Wells Fargo Financial closed their doors, I moved to the back end and collected on past-due mortgages. I did not enjoy that and ended my time at Wells Fargo in the Home Mortgage department processing documents for underwriters before I decided I wanted to stay home full-time with my son.
Finding a Career that Let Family Come First
I knew I wanted and needed to go back to work after having two kids and just missing a bit of myself. I really wanted a career that could be my own thing. Something where I could contribute more to our budget than photography would allow- and something I would be proud to brag about. At the time, I was taking listing photos for my dad, who is a REALTOR®, and I was asking him more and more questions as we worked together. I finally said, “Okay, what I do need to do to get started here?” and he put me in touch with his office.
Real estate was appealing to me because I could be a mom first. I could build this business how I wanted to and still pick up my son from school every day. I would have to be intentional about how, when and where I did my work, but it was completely possible for me to put my family first
A Leap of Faith into a Learning Curve
I could give a very canned “I love HGTV and House Hunters” answer for why I got into real estate, but it’s not true. I knew this was what I wanted to do and I decided I was going to stick to it- but I didn’t know I would be well-suited for this at first. It was a total leap of faith.
It took me many meetings just being quiet and listening to leaders and seasoned agents before I was comfortable with terminology. Even talking about basic stats and market supply was completely foreign to me. I was really scared at first that it would just never come to me. But as I learned and grew in the business, read more articles and sifted through market data, I knew everything would be okay.
Ultimately I love people and I knew I could be well-suited for real estate. Even if the data and technicalities didn’t come naturally, I knew this was where I was supposed to be.
I had a really unique situation when it came to my transition into real estate. First, I went from no income to…no income! Since I was used to not having a paycheck for the last four years, it was not as big of a shock to me. Second, for the first few months, I got to tag along to every appointment, listing, inspection and closing with my dad! It was nice to have him there to help my business get started on the right foot.
How to Craft Work-Life Harmony and Still Be a Mom First
I think the biggest challenge for me is that while I get to run my business how I want and I get to be a mom first, it sometimes poses a timing challenge with meetings. I have had to bring my kids, aka my little assistants, into the office at times and I’ve had to leave them on nights and weekends now and again.
When we made the decision to go into real estate, we did so as a family. We decided we were all in, so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for any time spent away. This has worked out wonderfully because everyone knows I’m running “our business” so we can pay the bills and do fun things. It’s a family effort.
My issue is sometimes I have a hard time putting my phone down at home. I have to be very conscious of who I’m giving time to and when. While I make the choice to leave my family every once in a while on a weeknight for a buyer tour, I also need to make the choice to leave my phone every once in a while for a day to take the kids to the zoo.
I went from being a stay-at-home mom to a full-time business owner, which is a massive swing of the pendulum. At first, I knew I needed to devote so much time daily to work and I would get frustrated when I had to leave the office early every day or when I had to miss a week of work to take care of a sick kid.
Now that I have seen the fruits of some of my labors and I know the effort I am putting in is worth it in the end, it is a little easier. I know what work I need to get done when my kids are at school and what work I can do with them around.
I love helping people turn the pages in their stories. For some, that means a growing family and moving to a bigger house or moving out of state for a dream job. For everyone, that means I get to help them with their goal. I think the most fulfilling relationships have been some of the most challenging ones: helping someone out of a hard situation or helping someone transition to assisted living. Those are situations that are so hard for the family, but they bring me great purpose.
I think the best moments have been the little ones- the moment where I’m walking through a house with a client and their whole demeanor changes. They know this is their home, they can see everything from a lazy Saturday to Christmas morning. I love getting to feel a little bit of that with them.
Moments listening to a seller tell me all about when they bought their house 47 years ago and how things have changed. I enjoy feeling a little bit of the love from those memories with them.
Giving an anxious buyer the key to their first house, handing a seller the proceeds from the sale of their family home, being part of their excitement, seeing their relieved faces as they take a deep breath for the first time- these are the moments I will never get tired of.
I will never take it for granted that a family chooses me to help them grab whatever goal they’re reaching for. My biggest success has been the addition of so many amazing people in my life. I have met some wonderful people doing this and between new referrals and reconnecting with old friends, I feel like the richest person in the world.
Ready to break free of the mundane and the ordinary and build your life the way you want it to be? Find out if real estate is the right choice for you and take our simple personality test to see if you have what it takes to take your life beyond just the ordinary. If you’d like to learn more about what it takes to get your Iowa real estate license, download our guide below.
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- Entire licensing process timeline
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